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Before this dance is through

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

February 3, 2006

In childhood, her pet had been her only comfort.

Unlike her roommate, shed never known when it would come. When her roommate got spanked, shed always known why, and how many swats shed get. She believed in spankings.

As for the girl, they struck without rhyme or reason;

not a matter of if but when. As time passed, she internalized the blows and the blame, ever trying not to provoke another incident. She inevitably failed.

She developed a stutter. Mothers hand struck her face sharply: I told you to STOP! Why such anger? The stutter soon went away by itself. But not the memory of how the sting felt, or the rage.

Every night, the neighbor across the street danced, each time a different style. What was it tonight? A tango, yes, thats it. An orchestra made the dancer seem lighter as she moved and twisted, as if in some milonga in far-off Buenos Aires But as always, one piece was missing from the near-perfect scene: The lady in the window danced alone.

Theres something indescribable about the movement of dance. Watching someone who finds dance natural, the sublime, easy coordination is visual magic to the beholder. God knows how it must feel to the dancer;

she couldnt imagine, as dancing never felt natural to her. Still, she longed to know that sensation of effortless movement, and the certainty that any random man would ask her to dance the moment she found herself unaccompanied. Imagine

At college, a friend had invited her to join a series of ballroom dance lessons. What had made her fight inhibition and decide to go? Maybe a hunch that dancing was key to social success in an age so encumbered by gender taboos. She tried, but soon tired of it;

it just never came to feel natural.

Mother let the babysitter in. The girl was twirling to music with her brother around the living-room by the antique table. It had glass paperweights and bowls on it.

Dancing and fooling around as kids do. A bit too close. Oops.

Amid such pandemonium of yelling, the girl was upstairs before she knew it. Father was following this time

The blow struck her in the chest. She stopped breathing. A little girl who was dancing moments before now stood silent with eyes and mouth wide-open, her numb chest convulsing, unable to gasp. The breathing returned in a few moments. She was ordered into bed.

Her parents would forget these episodes in later years.

How the hell can the Bee-Gees be allowed to follow last nights waltz? Strauss should be spinning in his grave Yet tonight the window across the street opened to a scene of lights and pulsing electric rhythms. The fluidity of motion came as naturally with an old disco beat as with last weeks showtunes, as the dancer gyrated beneath the lights in her tacky, polyester Persian cat gown. As always, by herself.

A cat

Ironically, disco was the only dance style shed ever learned, back in its heydey, a few times after her first junior-high dance. She only mastered the line-dances, never the partner steps. No touching or eye-contact. Safe.

She hung up on her parents. Hell, I dont need salt rubbed in my wounds. Cant get a date and its my fault;

yeah, right. Work on your grades and social skills Glad I picked a New York school;

never going back to California, no way.

Whats wrong with me?!

She could never figure it out. Other Juniors got boyfriends, or hookups, or what passed for dating. She wasnt a knock-out, but not bad-looking, yet guys never warmed to her, no matter how many subtle hints shed drop. The one time shed tried taking the initiative with a boy only resulted in public humiliation. In fact, it reinforced childhoods lesson: You never knew when the blows were coming, but they would just the same. Better keep to yourself and not even try.

Tonight, something was out of place;

a vague feeling of loss. My God, where is she? Her lights are out;

that never happens. Got to go find out She went upstairs to wash up before going out to look for the absent dancer.

What will I say to this stranger?

The bathroom had a medicine-chest with a mirror inside. Beside it was a window which she had left open. But now the air felt malevolent;

she went to close the window

A random glimpse toward the wall suddenly crystallized her sense of loss as her eyes fell upon the picture of the Persian cat who had been her solace and comfort in childhood. She didnt notice the tears as they flowed copiously down her face, carrying a lifetimes loneliness.

A wind howled. She looked back at the window and gasped

Standing there, suspended, right outside the window, was the dancer! Yet her eyes bore no more lightness;

they too were flowing with pains own river. In that fleeting moment, the awkward and graceful counterparts stood facing each other, sharing the sorrow of decades.

Wait, how can she be outside a second-story window?

While she had been looking away, the wind had drawn open the medicine-chest door in front of the window, revealing the mirror in which was reflected the beautiful, tearful dancer.

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